Photography: What not to do at a protest

When searching for protest photography on google, you’ll come up with a list of various things that make sense. Things like making sure you’ve got your settings right, dressing appropriately, and having the ability to switch lenses in a flash. These lists also include tips on how to gain fame for your photos by sending them out to various news stations and magazines.
What no one speaks about is respecting the movement, the collective action, and the protestors. Everyone and their mothers have a camera on their hip in the form of a smart phone. Selfies are commonplace, as are the standard held high crowd shot.
What people don’t consider in these situations is that this is dangerous for anyone standing up for their right to assemble. Recently western states have tried pushing legislation to prosecute protestors. Don’t make it easy for them.  It is almost impossible to not have some sort of connection to one side or the other. It’s okay to support whatever collective group you’re photographing, however, please keep in mind that if something should happen, the innocent person you photographed at the beginning is now being lumped in with the few who decided to go against the peaceful wishes of everyone else.
You want to help push the cause forward? Don’t be a photographer for the fame, be one as an accomplice. Be someone who doesn’t let injustice continue behind the scenes. Push that shit forward and fight.

  1. Know your rights as a photographer. Are you being detained? Are they requesting your camera/memory card because they have a warrant? You have rights, don’t forget them.
  2. Always carry extra memory and have a plan. It’s easy to blow through 300 photos at a protest, but what happens if you are detained? Don’t risk your photos getting into the hands of someone who may use them as blind validation. If things are reaching a climax and there is a concern, find a friend who is heading for the high ground and pass them on.
  3. Unless you have asked a person, don’t photograph faces. Just don’t. You’ll notice a lot of protestors with bandanas wrapped on the lower part of their faces, it’s there for a fucking reason.  A grey area with this is when a person has a bullhorn in hand and is often times found standing higher than the crowd. I’ve found most of the time, they are already aware that their face has been recorded previously, which is why they are more likely to be in front of the crowd, rather than part of it. This is a case by case situation, however, if in doubt, scrap it. Don’t argue about the whole “they’re in public, they have no privacy” thing. No shit Sherlock, obviously. But, if you are there trying to push humanity forward, use common sense. They can trace a face, shoot from behind.
  4. Don’t tag or link groups of people unless they okay it, giving away your network is making their job easier. Always assume your social media is being monitored.
  5. Now, if you feel you captured something that the person wouldn’t be comfortable with being on social media, scrap it. If you don’t know them, scrap it. If you really love it, and you know them, ask.
  6. Always remember, you want to help, not harm. Don’t shoot for the fame, shoot because people need to see others fighting. People need to know they are not alone.

As a human, photographer, and activist, I’m constantly torn between doing what I love –spreading awareness through film- and being conscious that what I could be doing may hurt someone. I take precautions. I have deleted many of my absolute favorite photos because I had a face shot without consent or decided not to follow through with my shutter because I didn’t want to risk photographing an activity someone could get in trouble for.

When in doubt, scrap it. Don’t share without consent. Shoot for awareness, not for fame.

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